By Alexandrine Ann Buyco, JD 1 and Cyril Dave Lim, JD 1
Gender-based sexual harassment can be experienced anywhere be it in public spaces, offices, or educational institutions. With the evolution of technology and the accessibility of the internet, sexual harassment has also become prevalent in the online space. Republic Act No. 11313 “An Act Defining Gender-Based Sexual Harassment in Streets, Public Spaces, Online, Workplaces, Educational or Training Institutions, Providing Protective measures and Prescribing Penalties Therefor,” otherwise known as the “Safe Spaces Act” is a more comprehensive act that creates a more comprehensive coverage of gender-based sexual harassment in any space, including the online space.
Purpose and Objectives of the “Safe Spaces” Act
One of the purposes of RA 11313 is to broaden its reach in ensuring an individual’s sense of personal space and public safety. Similarly, RA 7877 (Anti Sexual Harassment Act of 1995) is closely related to RA 11313 (Safe Spaces Act of 2019). The former has a limited definition of sexual harassment which is only confined to the harassment being committed in employment, education, or training environment, and for other purposes committed by very specific persons.
There are many instances however that sexual harassment occurs in public places and even online not covered by RA 7877. Further, the safe spaces act also protects people of all genders from online sexual harassment such as in social media or electronic mail (Article II – Gender-Based Online Sexual Harassment). Moreover, the safe spaces act does not limit the persons who are liable for sexual harassment in education and training institutions (Article V – Gender-Based Sexual Harassment in Educational and Training Institutions). The persons liable in the aforementioned article do not necessarily need to be superior or who have moral ascendancy over the sexual harassment survivor to commit sexual harassment.
Therefore, it is no longer necessary that sexual harassment be limited to those that were mentioned in RA 7877. With the advent of social media, RA 11313 also included the protection even to cyberspace and provides acts and their corresponding penalties.
What is gender-based sexual harassment (GBSH)?
When referring to gender, Republic Act No. 11313 defines it as a set of socially ascribed characteristics, norms, roles, attitudes, values, and expectations identifying the social behavior of men and women as well as the relations between them. Gender identity would be the personal sense of identity characterized along the spectrum of the feminine- and masculine-presenting conventions regardless of their sexuality.
Gender-based sexual harassment constitutes any acts that are committed through any unwarranted, unwanted, and uninvited sexual actions or remarks against any person, of any gender identity, regardless of the motive for committing such action or remarks.
According to the Social Weather Station, in 2016, 3 out of 5 women, 88% from the ages of 18 to 24 have experienced at least one form of sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime. Over 34% of women experience the worst forms of sexual harassment like flashing, public masturbation, and groping. Other forms of sexual harassment include wolf-whistling, lascivious language, voyeurism, indecent gestures, and sending pornographic pictures and videos. Catcalling and unwanted sexual remarks could include sexist remarks, homophobic remarks, misogynistic remarks, and transphobic remarks.
Gender-based Sexual Harassment in the Online Space
In the Philippines, the number of Filipinos using the internet has only increased. In 2017, over 67.74 million Filipinos were internet users, according to Statista. By 2018, the numbers rose to 72.45 million and in 2020 there were 79.66 million Filipino internet users recorded, which would be more than half of the total population. The firm forecasts that by the year 2026, 91.57 Filipinos would be utilizing the Internet.
Of the 79.66 million Filipino internet users in the year 2020, 78.5 million were present on social media. As of the year 2021, it is estimated that of the 82.41 million Filipinos present on the Internet today, 81.53 million would use social media. By the year 2026, 91.3 million Filipinos will be using at least one social media platform.
In another study done by Statista, as of March 2019, 86% of 18 to 24-year-old Filipinos use the internet while 71% of 25 to 34-year-olds are online. Those ages 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 would have 55% and 30% of their population utilize the internet respectively. Only 14% of those 55 years and above are present on the internet, the study showed.
In a separate study published by the same statistics firm in May of 2021, an average Filipino internet user in 2020 would have spent around four hours and 15 minutes per day on social media.
With the presence of Filipinos on the internet, it is not uncommon for the online realm to be a reflection of the in-person world. People in the online space, just like in the public space, experience sexual harassment.
In a study done by Pew Research Center published in 2014, online sexual harassment, and any other form of harassment, was prevalent on social media platforms and even in online gaming spaces. Gender-based online sexual harassment, according to RA 11313, refers to the online acts targeted at a particular person. These acts cause or are likely to cause mental emotional or psychological distress and fear of personal safety. Aside from unwanted sexual remarks, comments, and threats, uploading or sharing of one’s photos without consent, video and audio recordings, cyberstalking, and online identity theft are considered gender-based online sexual harassment.
In 2020, 7 in 10 or around 68% of girls and young women in the Philippines reported experiencing online harassment as reported by a study conducted by Plan International. Eight out of 10 or 79% of those that have reported said they have received threats of sexual violence on social media, the majority of which said they were harassed by people they know.
Assessing the Value and Effectiveness of the Act in Solving the Problem
Before the Safe Spaces Act, there were a few constitutional and legislative provisions that addressed violence against women. There was Article II, Section 14 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution recognizing the role of women in nation-building and ensuring the fundamental equality of both women and men in the law. There was also the Republic Act 6955 or the Anti-Mail Order Bride Law, R.A. 7877 or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, R.A. 8363 or the Anti-Rape Law of 1997, R.A. 8505 or the Rape Victims Assistance and Protection Act of 1998, R.A. 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, R.A. 9262 or the Anti0Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004, as well as R.A. 3815 or Article 245 of the Revised Penal Code addressing the abuse against chastity committed by any public officer.
Before the enactment of RA11313, there are numerous acts complained about that constituted harassment of sexual nature but could not fall under the definition of sexual harassment because the offender was neither an employer or superior at work but someone else. A civil case may be filed for damages, however, if the aggrieved party wanted to pursue a criminal case, the offender may only be charged with Acts of Lasciviousness which entails a much lighter penalty than sexual harassment as defined under RA 7877.
The Safe Spaces Act improved upon the previous provisions by recognizing problems that are borne by the signs of the times and inclusively addressing these problems. One provision R.A. No. 11313 covers in particular is the stringent online regulations in giving respect to those who are silent victims of the following:
- Physical, psychological, and emotional threats
- Unwanted sexual misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist remarks and comments online whether on public posts or through private messages
- Invasion of the victim’s privacy through cyberstalking and incessant messaging
- Recording or sharing any of the victim’s photos, videos, or information without permission
- Impersonating victims’ identities
- Posting lies about victims to harm their reputation and filing false abuse reports to online platforms to silence victims
Penalties for Perpetrators of Online Gender-Based Sexual Harassment
The penalty of prision correccional in its medium period which is imprisonment of six (6) months and one (1) day to two (2) years and four (4) months, or a fine of not less than One hundred thousand pesos (P100,000) but not more than Five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000), or both, at the discretion of the court shall be imposed upon any person found guilty of any gender-based online sexual harassment.
The PNP Anti-CybercrimeGroup is tasked to receive complaints and to develop an online mechanism for real-time reporting of gender-based online sexual harassment. The Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center of the DICT is also made to coordinate with the PNP to prepare appropriate and effective measures to monitor and penalize gender-based online sexual harassment.
How to Spot Online Sexual Harassment and How to Report Cases
Gender-based online sexual harassment comes in many forms and it is important to know what to look out for. If it is an act that uses the online space to terrorize and intimidate the survivor, it is considered online sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment threats could be any private message or public comment containing tines of sexual misogyny, any type of transphobia or homophobia, or just overall sexist remarks. When identifying cyberstalking as an offense, the stalker must have manifested the conduct through repeated use of electronic communications in stalking. A report cannot be made if the perpetrator only visits the publicly accessible online profile. However, online sexual harassers may use photos and other media from their survivors’ online profiles to impersonate their identities online or post incriminating lies about them to harm their reputation. They may even go to the lengths of filing false abuse reports to online platforms to silence the survivors.
The unauthorized recording or sharing of the survivor’s photos, videos, or any other information online is prohibited under the act. Any photos, videos, or voice recordings of sexual content that were uploaded and shared without the consent of at least one party involved also constitutes online sexual harassment that needs to be reported immediately to the proper authorities as well as the platforms the media was uploaded to be taken down as promptly as possible
Supporting Sexual Harassment Survivors
Reporting cases of gender-based sexual harassment is important. It allows the proper authorities to address the situation as well as create a safer environment for the survivor wherein they will not interact with the harasser first-hand. Not a lot of survivors report their cases. As PCW Chairperson Rhodora Bucoy reported, “2 in 5 women, that is 41%, aged 15 to 49 have never sought help to end violence nor told anyone about the violence. 1 in 4 told someone about violence but did not seek help.”
In a study conducted by Safer Spaces, survivors of gender-based sexual harassment and violence may not report cases due to the fear of not being believed or being accused of lying. They might carry a feeling of guilt or shame with what they have experienced, or have been intimidated to be silenced.
Sexual harassers need to be held accountable for their acts. The public must know that such actions are not permissible and, in the eyes of the law, are very much punishable. R.A. No. 11313 is meant to provide survivors the legislative and judicial support to come forward with their cases and show perpetrators that such acts are not something that can be dismissed.
In times like these, it is important to assure the survivor that they are believed and they are supported. The survivor should be advocated for and be empowered to advocate for themselves to go through the necessary steps so that justice may be served.
Practical Tips on Report Cases of Online Gender-Based Sexual Harassment and
When identifying gender-based sexual harassment and promptly reporting it, it is best to secure digital evidence of the act when filing the online report. The PCW advises taking note of the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or the web address of the website or social media account of the perpetrator. Take screenshots and make a printout of the content being complained of. To do this, open a browser like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox on a laptop or desktop computer and open the pertinent account or page and print that webpage.
When contacting the authorities, it is best to directly contact PNP’s Anti-Cybercrime Group e-complaint desk via https://acg.pnp.gov.ph/eComplaint/ or through their complaint action centers.
The survivor can also directly file a complaint with the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center or CICC which allows survivors to submit a cybercrime complaint in five steps, walking the complainant through every step. The Philippine National Police has an Anti-Cybercrime Group and Women and Children Cyber Protection Unit (WCCPU) which can be contacted through their email email@example.com and the Office of the Cybercrime (OOC) of the Department of Justice which can be contacted via email as well firstname.lastname@example.org.
The PNP WCCPU can also be contacted via landline (02) 8723-0401 local 5354 or through cellphone 0927 084 3792. The DOJ OOC can be contacted via landline, (02) 8526-2747 and (02) 8521-8345, and their office is found on the 3rd floor of the De Las Alas Bldg., Department of Justice, P. Faura St., Ermita, Manila
Investigation Confidentiality and Other Salient Features
It is worth noting that survivors of gender-based sexual harassment may avail of appropriate remedies provided for under the law, this includes psychological counseling services with the aid of the LGU and the DSWD. Any fees charged shall be borne by the harasser.
If need be and where appropriate, courts can issue a restraining order directing the perpetrator to stay away from the offended person even before rendering a final decision. And in any stage of the investigation, prosecution, and trial of an offense under the Safe Spaces Act, the rights of the victim and the accused who are considered minors shall be recognized. Confidentiality is also required to be observed at all times by employers, heads of schools, and training institutions when handling gender-based sexual harassment in their institutions.
Exceptions to the law include acts that are legitimate expressions of indigenous culture and tradition. This could be wearing traditional attires of tribes or clans that may show partial nudity provided that it does not discriminate against women, girls, and persons of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. Breastfeeding in public is also not penalized under the Safe Spaces Act.
It is only when cases are taken seriously, properly reported, and addressed that the Filipino people will be able to enjoy safer environments online and in real life, free of sexual harassment.